If you're anything like me, you've spent the last several months studying scouting reports, watching YouTube clips and reading (i.e. critiquing) every mock draft that Google spit back at you. If you're like me, you've changed your mind somewhere in the vicinity of 62,000 times on who you want suiting up for your 76ers next year. When I look at our current roster, I see five players that I believe will be back on the team as part of the foundation moving forward: MCW, Noel, Wroten, Thompson, and Sims. I think Thad will be gone by the end of the draft, and as much as I love Thad, it makes little sense to keep him around for a rebuild, especially if Hinkie can get first round value for him. This team needs a lot of things: a shooter, an offensive PF, a scoring wing, so it's hard to go wrong with two top-10 picks and this many holes to fill.
One need which I believe hasn't gotten much attention, but is crucial to developing a championship-level team, is the Alpha-Dog. That player who is going to look at his teammates when they're down by eight with four minutes to go and say, "We are NOT losing this game." When I look MCW and Noel, I see a nice foundation upon which to build; however, neither one of these players, in my opinion, has that alpha dog potential. Noel is extremely competitive and hates to lose, but he doesn't strike me as that leader with the killer instinct to take over games. MCW appears to be more of a passive, laid back player which is only magnified by the fact that he plays an Alpha-Dog-heavy position (CP3, Westbrook, Lillard, Wall, Rose, Rondo, Lowry).
All you have to do is look at the past champions to realize that an Alpha Dog is a necessary ingredient in a title run.
Spurs: I think it's Manu. He took over three of the five games that series and is a relentless competitor. You could argue it was Kawhi, and to a lesser extent Duncan and Parker. Shit, Pop even gets some votes. That team clearly had no issues in the leadership department.
Heat: LeBron may have taken a few years to fully develop that killer instinct, but watching both of those title runs, he was on Jordan's level as far as taking over games and refusing to let his team lose.
Mavericks: Dirk looked the Miami super-team in the eyes and said "I'm beating you." People argue Miami choked, but go back and watch those games again. Dirk was a bad-ass that entire series. His team wasn't on the same level as Miami from a talent standpoint. Dirk just out-competed everyone and willed Dallas to win the title.
Lakers: Kobe. His competitiveness reaches near-psychotic levels. Seems like the type of guy who would rather swan dive into a pool of broken glass than lose a game.
Celtics: While Pierce was a phenomenal leader and had the cockiness and swagger that you love to see in your go-to guy, KG is arguably one of the 5 most insanely competitive leaders in NBA history. If Garnett caught any of his teammates taking even one possession off, he was right in their grill to call them out on it.
The list goes on: MJ, Magic, Bird...
That's what this team needs to get in this draft. It doesn't necessarily have to come with the 3rd pick, but it has to happen. With that in mind, here are my rankings of the potential Alpha Dogs who will have their names called Thursday night.
1) MARCUS SMART (PG/SG) - He's a slightly less athletic Russell Westbrook. Their games mirror one another in a number of ways. The most notable similarity is their hair-on-fire competitiveness. Smart wants to win at everything, all the time. Basketball, checkers, monopoly, whatever! Smart will do everything in his power to make sure he comes out on top.
2) JABARI PARKER (SF/PF) - While I'm not sure about his fit athletically with the Sixers as they are currently constructed, there is no denying that Parker is the definition of a leader. His assertiveness is matched only by his immeasurable love for basketball. Go watch his games at Duke. He is constantly in the ear of a teammate if they are struggling, picking them up, making sure they are still going to the red line on every possession, whether they are up 20 or down 20. You want that guy on your side.
3) ELFRID PAYTON (PG) - The consistent line you hear coming from every combine and every individual workout is that this kid is a born leader. The big thing working in his favor is that he feels like he has something to prove. Word coming out of the combine is that he and Marcus Smart, who were on opposing teams and guarded one another during scrimmages, engaged in an all-out war. The prevailing belief was that Smart is just a crazy person and no one would come close to matching his aggressiveness on the court, but Payton matched and, in some cases, even exceeded Smart's hustle and competitiveness. They played scrimmages like they were game 7 of the finals. I don't see MCW doing this.
4) AARON GORDON (PF/SF) - The first thing that people talk about with Gordon is his other-worldly athleticism. But one of the overlooked aspects of his game is his grittiness and relentless determination on the court. Gordon is a guy who can take over a game with his sheer athletic ability alone, but if you watched Arizona this year, you saw a guy who was on every loose ball, scrapping with opponents and rallying his teammates to follow his lead.
5) DANTE EXUM (PG/SG) - Exum gets this slot based almost exclusively on what I've heard from others. And what I've heard is that he is a natural leader who never takes a possession off and expects nothing less from his teammates. He is a mild-mannered kid off the court, but has been compared to Kobe in terms of pure determination, leadership and competitiveness. I like him a little more with every article I read about him.
Having said all of that, I'd be ecstatic if they came away from this draft with Wiggins and Stauskas. But if you look at the blueprint to building a champion in the NBA, getting that alpha dog on your squad seems to be a top priority.